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It's a little tricky to talk about Sebastian Stan's role in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" without revealing something that could be a surprise for a lot of audience members. I can tell you (in case you haven't seen enough posters and trailers) that Stan does play the Winter Soldier himself, a lethal assassin sent to exterminate Cap (Chris Evans), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and pretty much everyone else. I can also tell you that you've seen him before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe...but let's leave it right there.
You've also seen Stan (who was born in Romania but has lived here since he was 12) in the TV shows "Once Upon a Time" and "Gossip Girl," and in the movies "Black Swan" and "Hot Tub Time Machine," among others. If you hang around midtown Manhattan a lot, you might have seen his name up in lights when he made his Broadway debut in a 2007 production of "Talk Radio." He's done it all: stage, screen, and TV.
But you've never seen him like this: a relentless, brutal, and tortured Winter Soldier, one of Marvel's most popular bad guys. The soft-spoken Stan sat down with Moviefone to talk about getting into the character's head, how to play a villain, and which part of the costume was the most irritating.
Moviefone: Did you see the Winter Soldier as a "tragic" figure?
Sebastian Stan: Yeah, I did, but you can't play that, you know. It's not something that you can really use. Me as an outsider looking at a character like that I would say tragic, yes. Me as the actor kind of playing him, I saw him as a real viable threatening weapon. Somebody who just is almost operating from complete mechanical automatic ways of existing in life. He has very little trace of humanity left to him. And then somebody that essentially is starting to kind of feel things that he's not -- he hasn't felt in a while. He doesn't know why.
How do you find your way into his head?
I don't know. I don't really know. I think there was a lot of research that I did in the months before we started shooting, where I was able to kind of observe certain -- I watched a lot of documentaries on post-traumatic stress and a lot of army documentaries about the training programs and some of the extreme sort of circumstances that some of those guys that are training to be Navy SEALs and some who are a part of it go through.
I was trying to understand what it is, what it means for someone to be desensitized, to no longer question hurting something. I did as much research on all that stuff as I could in order to kind of know what that was like. And then my stepdad actually has Alzheimer's, so there were parts about watching and studying that kind of disease, also, observing people like that that kind of helped me a little bit.
Sorry to hear about your stepdad.
Oh, thank you.
A lot of actors say it's fun to play villains because you can go big. But this guy has a lot of stillness in him. Was it still fun?
Yeah, it's really hard. It is hard because there's always going to be that voice in your head that's going, "Are you sure they're going to get it? You sure you don't want to do a little bit more? Maybe you should use more facial expression or be more angry and do more, do more." You have to kind of keep that voice in check. The more stillness the character had, and the more sort of nonchalant attitude about what he was doing, you know, the better it was going to come across. Everything to him should have felt like a typical day, a walk in the park.
Did you feel any sort of extra responsibility in getting this story right because this is one of the most popular Marvel and Captain America stories?
You can't not feel responsibility for these characters, because the fan base is so strong out there, and they're great characters and big characters and everybody has expectations. And you just want to do them justice. So yeah, definitely.
What was the most uncomfortable part? Any piece of the costume really get to you?
The mask was really tough at times because, when we were fighting out in the June or July sun and we were just doing those sequences, I would just have to literally rip it off my face and just breathe. And that was a little bit tough. But the whole process of putting that thing on was about 30 to 40 minutes. Taking it off is 30 to 40 minutes. So in the process of putting it on, there was always that thing of like, "All right, well, here we go," you know. And then, of course, there were moments where it was like, "Oh my God, please get me out of this. I think I'm going to fall over. I know I'm going to pass out today."
You made your Broadway debut in 2007, and have been back on Broadway a couple of times since.
Yeah, right before this movie.
How do stage and screen acting play off each other?
They're definitely very different but, if anything, I would say it's your stamina. There's something about being on stage every night, eight times a week that, if you survive that, you kind of feel like you can really survive anything... almost. It's like being on a train that will not stop. So if you jump off that train, you're jumping off while it's at full speed.
Scarlett has said something similar.
Oh, my God, yeah. It's just, I mean your voice is gone, you're going tired. I mean, maybe you're getting sick even. I was acting sick at one point. I mean, you get a phone call -- distressing news -– but you've got to go on stage. Life is happening but, you know, that saying "the show must go on" is really true.
What's next for you? Stage or screen?
Well... I'm always going to keep them guessing.
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" opens April 4.
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